I watch you from across the waiting room. You smiled politely at me when you walked in just like I did you. You arms are abundantly full as you carry not only your personal bag, but also a diaper bag for your infant and a second, much larger bag, for your special needs son.
I watch as you soothe your little girl in your lap. She’s tugging on the pink and white polka dot bow you have in her curly brown hair. I used to ache for those kind of curls. I don’t know what her daddy looks like, but she has your blue eyes and your nose.
I know that you’re trying to balance it. I can see it on your face. Balance being a wholehearted mama who treats her children the same. Even though your son has some sort of special need. I’m not a doctor, but based on my research and my own journey down this special need parenting road, I’m going to guess some form of Autism.
I watch him without a hint of judgement as he starts to get antsy while you’re pulling snacks out of your bag. He wants the red pack instead of the blue one. But, today, you only have the blue. I see the blood drain out of your face as you frantically dig, hoping to find one more pack-just one more- buried in one of the bags that you’re carrying. I look over at my own son, who is glancing back and forth from me to you & your son. I pat his leg and give him a smile and a nod and he goes back to what he was doing.
As you pull out your hand, empty of anything except the blue bag of snacks on more time, your sons whimpers become wails and I watch as you become frazzled. Bribing…pleading…praying…just hoping beyond hope that he will calm down. You’re little girl starts to get upset, too. She become agitated with the hair bow; finally ripping off and throwing it on the floor. Your son begins to flap his arms and rock in his chair as you sweep the bow back toward you with your foot.
Noah sees what’s going on and instinctively jumps up to retrieve the bow. He walks over to you, kneels down and grabs it and then hands it back. He’s a bit shy (he’s always like that around people he doesn’t know) but reluctantly tells you that his brother does that all the time. That’s when he notices that your son has on a dinosaur shirt.
“Hey! That’s a T-Rex! That’s my favorite dinosaur!” he says before scooting back over to the chair where I’m sitting. Your little boy stops the flapping for a few moments and looks down at his shirt.
My heart, and yours I think, breaks a little at that moment. I see it in his face. The same look I’ve seen on my own sons face countless times before…relief. Relief that, for just a moment, he was just a boy. Not a special needs kid. Not a little boy with autism (or whatever “name” there is associated with him). Just a little boy with a dinosaur shirt. And you? For just a moment, you were just a mama to two children. Not a special needs mama. Just a mom.
There were days…long, long time ago, before I realized that my Noah wasn’t quite like all of the other kids, where I’d have gone on the defensive if someone told me I was “just a mom.” It used to be an insult. I’d get all bent out of shape over the insinuation that because I spent my days caring for children that I didn’t do anything or that my time didn’t matter. Sipping Mimosa’s and eating bon-bons seemed to be the stigma that I knew that I didn’t fit. I cooked. I cleaned. I catered to a very sensitive child day in and day out. I did all of the ‘things’ that the pediatrician said do and dammit I wasn’t just a mom.
Shuffling back and forth to doctors appointments, therapies, IEP meetings, teacher conferences and just balancing the general differences in raising a special needs child and a “normal” child is flat-out exhausting. I see it in your face. I see it in the dark circles under your eyes that match mine. The ones that I say, “I am absolutely exhausted and have no idea what to do. I stayed up again last night trying to find some sense of normal after everyone went to sleep.” I see the strain of carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders; the weight that no one else seems to understand.
You may be like me and have only one person who seems to get it or seems to care enough to try to get it. You feel alone. You sit at night after the bad days and you question every. single. decision that you have ever made. You feel the guilt of the “what if?” questions baring down on you every time something goes wrong or seems off or he has a bad day and you get the stares and the looks from the women you’ve deemed the ‘good’ moms because their kids don’t act like that.
Can I just say, I SEE you? I hear you, even if you aren’t saying anything. I know what you’re feeling and I know how hard it is.
Because I’m there, too. And I want to tell you that you are doing GREAT. You are doing everything that you can right now. You have your hands full (literally and figuratively) and you are rocking it. I know it’s hard. I know there are more days than you can count where you wake up and you think to yourself, “there’s no way I can do this again today.” But you can, and you do. Because you are a freakin’ rock star. You don’t believe it and you dang sure don’t say it, but you are hardcore and your love for your children is so blatantly obvious.
We exchange a few pleasantries about how cute our children are (She has the prettiest little ringlets! Oh he is so handsome! And those cheeks?! You would think that we could get to the back a little faster since it’s a Tuesday afternoon…) and the weather. Your son and mine both grow even more impatient, with mine throwing a magazine onto the floor and we lock eyes.
In that instant, you know. Just like I knew. You aren’t alone. You aren’t the only one. Everything that you’ve felt and are feeling at that very moment amidst the screaming and the whining and the tantrum-ing, you see in a handful of seconds as it flashes across my face. We smile at one another, each knowing that we are giving everything that we have left in us to keeping our children together while we wait to see the doctor, and we nod.
That nod? It’s like a secret handshake. It’s a right of understanding; a passage of sorts.
That nod simply means, “I get it. It’s hard as hell. But, this is our life. And despite the hard, we wouldn’t change it.”
Keeping doing you mama. You’re rocking it harder than you think.
Love, hugs and the deepest prayers,
A Kindred Spirit